Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let’s be honest.....BJP, Congress, and each one of is corrupt, directly or indirectly.....

Now that the BJP government in Karnataka has been fairly and squarely indicted for corruption, its ability to do grandstanding on the Lokpal discussion is thankfully over. The Congress has anyways earned itself the tag of being a corrupt party. Its time now for us – the middle class and rich of India – those who read blogs like this one – to come clean with our own admission of corruption. So far, we have been pointing fingers at politicians who are corrupt. Let’s now point those fingers at ourselves.

A few examples should suffice.

The CM of Maharashtra today approved a new BMC proposal for calculating FSI for high rises in Bombay. There is nothing original about this plan, but there is a great deal of honesty about it. As everyone in this city knows, builders have been constructing larger flats and office spaces than officially declared by abusing the FSI formula. Things such as “flower beds”, “pocket terraces” etc – which were available to make the living areas look a little beautiful, were blatantly abused to increase room sizes. Flower beds are small areas adjoining the living area (any/all rooms of the flat) for growing plants. They are supposed to make the flat look a little beautiful (and green!). Except that in reality, none of these flower beds are actually used for the declared purpose. In almost all cases, the flower beds are “brought in” into the room. In reality, this provision has provided an easy way to increase flat sizes while still staying within the FSI limit. In many buildings in Bombay now, the flower beds are 8-10 feet wide! Imagine this much area being added to a room which may be 15-20 feet in width. That’s like adding 40-50% area without it being included in the FSI calculation! No one obviously verifies if the said area has indeed been used as a flower bed or if it has been taken into the room. No one can. Would you like the municipal authorities entering your house to check if the flower bed has indeed been used as a flower bed?! It was never supposed to be a flower was just an ingenious solution developed by the entire “system” to circumvent an archaic policy problem (of keeping official FSI limits artificially low) which it itself created.....and is loathe to change! Now all this is going to change. The builder will only be allowed small-sized flower beds and for anything above that, he will have to pay 100% premium. We all feel happy that corruption has been controlled.

But look at this more closely. Who all was benefited from this corrupt act of the builders? Firstly, the government itself. When the mill lands were auctioned in Central Bombay, builders paid exorbitant rates. Expecting the “flower beds” kind of concessions. Had these concessions not been there, the government would have made far lesser monies. The other beneficiary? People like us! People who buy flats will now have to pay much higher prices because the cost of FSI has just gone higher. All of us like to think that the builders pocketed all the money.....but in a competitive world, most of them passed on a lot of the savings to us buyers (just like many of us believe that the telcos pocketed all the benefits of the cheap 2G spectrum. In reality, telcos passed it all over to us in the form of cheap pricing). So we have been availing of illegal benefits all this while. We could claim that we didn’t know that it was illegal. Fair enough. But now, when we do know that it was illegal, will we willingly pay higher prices? No! We are already complaining. It’s starting to hurt! And wait and watch....we will collude with builders and together develop another way to beat the system! People who live in rented properties were similarly benefiting from relatively cheap with increasing property prices, their rents also will climb. All of us were part of the game, but we liked to point fingers only at the builders. Now all of us will have to pay!

It’s the exact same in every act of corruption. Let’s take the business of bribes as another example. The biggest “givers” of bribe are undoubtedly the middle class and the rich. Break a traffic rule – pay a small “token” to the cop and escape the pain of prosecution and a hefty fine. Who is corrupt? We like to say its the reality both the cop and we are corrupt. Want a train ticket at the last minute? Pay off the train condutor and get your way. Both are corrupt. Have you ever bought movie tickets at those “old fashioned” theatres? Tickets are officially sold entertainment taxes are reality, someone outside the theatre is selling them at double the official price. Who’s corrupt? The person selling the tickets, the theatre owner (who has set up this racket in the first place) or we the people who buy the tickets (for the convenience of just walking in and for getting the ticket at much cheaper rates than available at multiplexes). It’s the same story everywhere. The biggest givers are people like us....and all of us have to accept our acts of corruption.

Many people discount bribes as not being acts of corruption. People like us like to call it a “majboori” – a necessity forced upon us. After all, we say nothing moves in “this” country without giving bribes. Nice! What about avoiding taxes illegally wherever possible. Most followers of Anna’s movement could reasonably be expected to be businessmen and businesswomen. Or students, who will invariably end up doing business later in life (After all, most people in India do business.....not salaried jobs). Maybe there was a chemist there, who preferred not to cut the receipt so that sales tax could be avoided? Maybe a restaurant owner who still does most of his business in cash? A school teacher doubling up as an insurance agent and forgeting to pay taxes on that income? A property owner failing to declare his rental income? The fact is that there are no Gandhis amongst us. How can we demand that there should be Gandhis on the other side???

Who suffers? Only the poor people. The train ticket that we acquired by paying a bribe should have, in fact, gone to some poor honest person who cannot pay that bribe. The bribe we paid to the cops should have gone to the government which should have put it into some social scheme. Tax avoidance is so rampant in our country it is not funny. The number of tax payers is some 3% of the working population. That’s it. And even those who pay, avoid as much as possible. That’s what my complaint with Anna is. His is a movement that does not even start to acknowledge the culpability of the ordinary person. Corruption surely exists in the political class; but it exists in equal or more measure in the common people all around him. That’s why he is no Gandhi. If he had been Gandhi, his first fast would have been amongst his corrupt followers urging them to give up their corruption before joining his movement. How many people would there be left then?  Politicians are easy prey. Everyone knows they are corrupt (Will write about why politicians are corrupt in a later post). But does Anna not know that each one of us is corrupt? What about the thousands of people who will work in the Lokpal set-up? Why will they not be corrupt? How can we assume that the same compulsions that make all of us corrupt won’t make them corrupt? Are they made in a different mould???

The real truth and one that is really ugly is that we are all party to the business of corruption. That’s why corruption doesn’t go. Because it serves the interests of the middle class people like us. We like to point our fingers at the politicians, smartly deflecting the glare away from ourselves. We are all guilty of hurting the poor....yet we like to mouth platitudes for them. Before Anna goes on his next fast, he may want to read this post.....

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